Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on July 6, 2011
Former First Ladies Laura Bush and Nancy Reagan celebrate the donation of numerous First Ladies' Red Dresses to further heart disease awareness efforts which Mrs. Bush has campaigned for.
These dresses were donated by former First Ladies to further the cause of heart disease awareness which Laura Bush has long campaigned for.
In honor of the Fourth of July, I would like to discuss some of my favorite First Ladies’ dresses and gowns. It would be impossible to discuss the wardrobes of all America’s first ladies, but at least we can look at a few of the most popular or fashionable first ladies’ gowns.
First Lady Julia Tyler is painted here in a lovely 1840s cream dress. I'm not sure if this was her wedding dress or not, but it certainly was beautiful!
As most of America’s presidents have been in office during the latter half of their life, their respective first ladies have often times been a bit older as well. For this reason, the first five decades of the American presidency did little to influence the fashion scene at the time (Dolley Madison excepted). With this in mind, I am starting this post with a look at Julia Gardiner Tyler, who was the second wife of President John Tyler. His first wife Letitia died while he was in office, and his second bride was the twenty-four year old daughter of a trusted senator. Julia Gardiner was a bit controversial as his wife, since she was younger than one of the President’s own daughters and was known for having a bold, outspoken personality. First Lady Julia had rather royal ideas about what her position as First Lady ought to be, and was often seen parading about Washington in a royal carriage, attended by no less than twelve maids at all times! But in spite of all this frivolity, Mrs. Tyler began the tradition of having “Hail to the Chief” played upon the President’s arrival in a room, and hosted a great number of balls to bring life and warmth back into the White House after years of solemnity prevailing in this residence.
Frances Cleveland wears a lovely bolero of embroidered tulle that covers a sweetheart-necked dress. I love the idea of making a high-collared bolero with the flower pin!
The next First Lady I’d like to discuss is Frances Folsom Cleveland, one of America’s most beloved and fashionable First Ladies. Frances Cleveland was the youngest first lady ever, was the only first lady to be married in the White House building itself, and was also the only first lady to serve two non-consecutive terms in Washington! When her husband, Grover Cleveland was elected for President, Americans assumed the next four years in the White House would be rather dull with this middle-aged bachelor in office. So imagine their surprise when the press announced that the President-elect was engaged to a young lady almost thirty years his junior! Frances Cleveland was just twenty-two years old when she was married in the East Room of the White House, and rose to instant fame as newspapers across the country detailed her lovely wedding dress, hairstyle, and appearance. Throughout her two terms as first lady, Mrs. Cleveland received mountains of fan mail and a warm response wherever she traveled.
Frances Cleveland's wedding gown was made in the classic 1880s style - fitted bodice, long sleeves, high collar, and a sumptuous bustle and train!
For this portrait, Frances commissioned her wedding gown to be altered from the original style worn on her wedding day. It would appear that it has since had the trim removed.
I had the opportunity to view Frances Cleveland’s original wedding gown in the National History Museum in Washington, D.C. some years ago, but since that time the First Ladies’ Dress Exhibit has been downscaled immensely to preserve the aging garments. So I don’t believe her wedding dress is currently on display, but you can still view dozens of other first ladies’ gowns there!
The beloved First Lady Mamie Eisenhower chose her favorite color for this inaugural ball gown.
Jumping forward several decades, we come to First Lady Mamie Doud Eisenhower. Mrs. Eisenhower embodied the fun and light-hearted spirit of the 1950s which Americans adopted in an effort to forget World War II. After the long, gloomy war years, the people of the United States were ready for a change, and Mamie Eisenhower certainly helped to bring that to pass in Washington. Mamie is perhaps best remembered for her favorite color – pink! Her life-long fondness for this color was evident in her choice of inaugural ball gown, a lovely peau de soie silk embroidered with diamente’ beading. But it was not for her dresses alone that Mamie chose pastel pink; her White House residence was soon transformed into a pink paradise with bedroom walls, bath linens, bedspreads, and even the carpets redecorated to display her favorite rosy hue!
Here Mamie wears an off-the-shoulder silk evening gown with an unusual panel down the center front.
Mamie Eisenhower was the perfect First Lady to represent the era, from her fondness for “I Love Lucy” to her full-skirted 50s dresses. When she left the White House, the next First Lady would have big shoes to fill – and did she ever!
Besides her fashion style, Jacqueline contributed greatly to American history through her restoration of the White House interior.
First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy – need I say more? I doubt if any First Lady has had such an enormous effect on America’s fashion industry, or left a more indelible image in only a two year term at the White House! Her name is synonymous with “First Lady Fashion”, and it was reported that Mrs. Kennedy even designed some of her own dresses.
Jacqueline in a beautiful fuschia dress.
The lovely Jacqueline Kennedy transformed popular fashion from the full 1950s silhouette to the slimmer sheath dresses, while inspiring women across the nation to adopt short, bouffant hair styles topped with jaunty pill box hats! Wherever she went, Jacqueline’s dresses were admired and copied at an alarming rate. At 5’8″, she even wore a sheath suit only days after the birth of her son, and no one would have guessed that she’d just had a baby! While her time in the White House was short, she managed to refurbish the two lower levels of the historic mansion to their original beauty, adding classic American art and furniture to the White House collection.
Nancy Reagan stands proudly in her favorite reception room in the White House. Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library.
It remained for Nancy Reagan to be the next First Lady to be known for (and often criticised for!) her wardrobe. If Mamie was remembered for pink, then Nancy would certainly be remembered for the color red! Mrs. Reagan’s trim figure was frequently adorned with red silk evening gowns, red wool suits, red gathered skirts, and red ruffled blouses! This former film actress helped bring an elegance back to the White House that had been waning for some years. She designed an exquisite set of White House china, redecorated the living quarters, and hosted sumptuous dinners and parties for ambassadors and Washington politicians. Not surprisingly, her favorite room for entertaining was the Red Room, and on most occasions her attire would blend right in with the bold colored walls!
From her debut as screen actress in the 1930s to her role as First Lady in the 1980s, Nancy Reagan remained a true inspiration for American women.
Perhaps it was the fact that she wore a $10,000 dress for the 1981 inauguration, or her fondness for receiving evening gowns as gifts from elite designers, but whatever the reason, the press did their best to attack Nancy’s reputation from the moment her husband entered office! I do agree that there is no reason to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a dress that you’ll wear once, especially when there are people around the world who can hardly afford clothing at all! In that respect her wardrobe could be compared to that of Mary Todd Lincoln, who amassed enormous bills for fine clothing, jewelry and furniture during America’s most desperate hour of the Civil War. However, I don’t see any evil with the First Lady being given a dress as a present if someone chooses to do so, and I’ve never heard of Queen Elizabeth or Princess Catherine being scolded for the cost of their wardrobes!
Ronald & Nancy Reagan during a White House party.
Nancy wears a stunning silk gown in the East Room of the White House.
Only a few years before, the media had made fun of Rosalynn Carter for wearing the same gown for her husband’s inauguration that she had twice worn for his gubernatorial inaugurals, and this time around they were complaining that Mrs. Reagan’s wardrobe was too nice! I wonder why Americans can’t simply enjoy their first families the way that England admires the Queen’s… At any rate, Nancy Reagan did in time win the hearts of this country, and today (July 6, 2011), she celebrates her ninetieth birthday!
Nancy Reagan and Laura Bush at the opening of the Red Dress Exhibit.
Since her time in the White House Nancy Reagan has continued to live an active, happy life, and was connected with fashion history once more when she and First Lady Laura Bush hosted the opening of a First Ladies Red Dress exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on June 28, 2011
“The hills are alive with the Sound of Music”! There are certain sights that I will always associate with the “Sound of Music” and the von Trapp family history. While some native Austrians may not agree with me, I think that locations such as Nonnberg Abbey, Mondsee Cathedral, or the Mozart Footbridge are quintessential “Sound of Music” locations that bring all the joy of the real life von Trapps’ story back to life! So in honor of all these fabulous “Sound of Music” filming locations, I hope to write one post a week about a von Trapp family location in the Salzburg, Austria vicinity that is important to the von Trapp family story.
The Salzach River with Fortress Hohensalzburg on the right.
So let’s start at the very beginning… The von Trapp family history really begins with the glorious city of Salzburgitself. Situated in some of creation’s most spectacular scenery, this musical town’s charming Tyrolean architecture blends seamslessly with the Alpine mountains, lush hillsides, and pristine rivers and lakes which surround it.
Resindzplatsz, recognizable as the Nazi "Anschluss" scene immediately following Georg & Maria's wedding.
But it is not for the ”Sound of Music” film alone that Salzburg is world-renowned. In fact, this city was made famous in the 1700s when Mozart spread his enchanting music across Europe and made Salzburg a permanent fixture in the world of classical music. Besides the rich choirs and string orchestras which were birthed in this city, Salzburg is filled with gourmet chocolatiers and sumptuous Austrian bakeries, breathtaking cathedrals, towering palaces, and delightfully sculpted gardens. Down the center of this marvelous town runs the Salzach River, and a myriad of fountains and pools fill the rest of Salzburg with pristine, alpine water. And throughout numerous magnificent ballrooms twirl the magical Austrian waltzes to strains of lilting violin music.
The Venetian Ballroom in Leopoldskron Palace, now an operating hotel.
It was into this fairy-tale setting that the von Trapp family was born, and with such a background as this there can be little wonder how a story as remarkable as the one told in “The Sound of Music” could capture the hearts of millions of people around the world. Today the most recognizable landmarks in Salzburg are in almost the same condition as the von Trapps would have known them in the early 1900s.
Fortress Hohensalzburg with the clear Salzach River below.
At the pinnacle of Salzburg towers the Fortress Hohensalzburg, an impressive castle built in 1077 by the Archbishop Gebhard, and is still in operation today as a museum. The second most obvious article in Salzburg is the Salzach River, which when translated is simply the “Salty River”! Maria von Trapp remembered winding her way along the Salzach River on a moonless night while on her way back to the von Trapp villa, having just received instructions from the Reverend Mother that it was God’s will for her to marry the Captain.
One could write for days about this beautiful city, but since the sun has gone to bed and so must I, stay tuned for the next installment of “Sound of Music” locations next week!
So long, farewell, auf weidersehen, goodbye!
Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on June 26, 2011
A Vintage 1950s dress made from Butterick Pattern 4790
I am excited to share some pictures of a vintage 1950s dress I’ve been wanting to sew for months! This 50s style dress was more or less made from Butterick pattern 4790, with some alterations to make it look like the original pattern that was printed 60 years ago. If you have ever wondered how to sew a 1950s dress, I would highly recommend this pattern with the recommended adjustments.
This 1950s vintage style is fairly simple to make once you've adjusted your pattern.
When I first saw the original sketch on Butterick’s website, I thought, “Oh, that’s gorgeous!” But after viewing their picture for the actual dress they sewed from the pattern, I was a bit puzzled. “Is that really the same pattern?” I wondered.
This was the original cover-art for the Butterick "Walk-Away" Dress.
Here is Butterick's sample of the dress, which looks a bit more like an apron than a dress to me.
Even a casual observer would probably notice that the bodice isn’t well-fitted, the wraparound bodice pieces are too low, and the skirt hangs down around the knees instead of standing out in a “pouffy” fashion. In short, it didn’t look like a 1950s dress, but I was sure there was a way to fix it! (If you read the pattern reviews online, most seamstresses complain that Butterick 4790 doesn’t fit like the pattern illustration shows, but the solution for that is to fit your dress as you go along so you can see what you need to change.)
Last year I talked with McCalls Fit Expert Pati Palmer about it, and she confirmed my suspicions that this wasn’t the original pattern they used back in the 50s. Pati informed me that all the vintage patterns are redesigned for the modern figure (which isn’t always a pretty sight!), though the pattern companies often use the original artwork. And she should know, since she’s been designing patterns for McCalls since the 1970s! So together we did the “tissue fit” of the pattern on me, and she insisted that I choose my pattern size by the “above-bust” measurement, rather than the regular chest measurement. So if your collarbone circumference is 31″, you would use a pattern size 8 (substitute the “above-bust” measurement for the regular bust circumference). Of course this makes it much too small everywhere else, so you just add width to the side seams to fit the rest of your body. I was a bit apprehensive about using this method, but Pati assured me that it is the best option, because “the collarbone area is the hardest part of your body to fit,” she explained. So as long as it fits in the shoulder area, you can easily widen the rest of the pattern, try it on to make sure it fits, and continue with your project!
And it worked out great! I usually have too much room in the collarbone anyhow, but this is one pattern that fits perfectly now! So back to the rest of the alterations to make this pattern look like the pattern cover – I decided there were a few simple adjustments that should make this pattern fit well and look like a classic 1950s dress!
When worn with a corset and crinoline, Butterick pattern 4790 can look very close to the original design.
- Make the bodice more fitted in the collarbone (already described above).
- Redraw the “v” shaped bodice wrap-around to hit higher in the ribcage.
- Have the bias binding visible only on the inside.
- Wear the appropriate foundation garments for a fuller skirt and smaller bodice!
The second alteration is very simple, and I show how to do it below:
- Place a strip of pattern tissue paper behind the curved part of the back bodice wrap-around. Tape in place.
Add your tissue pattern paper.
- Redraw the curve to be more of a “v” shape, rather than a “u”. (It will just look like a diagonal line right now, but with one on either side it will look like a “v”.)
Redraw the line to hit higher than the pattern shows.
- Cut off the excess pattern paper.
Once these steps are done, you can follow the pattern instructions exactly, although I chose to sew the binding so that it is only visible on the inside. While the pattern instructions tell you to simply encase the raw edge in the bias binding, my impression of the visible (and often contrasting) bias binding is that it gives the dress a rather homemade look. One lady who has sewn this pattern even likened it to a hospital gown! So simply stitch the bias binding on the right side of the fabric, trim the seam allowance down, press well, turn the binding to the inside, and handstitch in place.
Lastly, wear a corset and a crinoline! I am always amazed when I see pictures online of a 1950s reproduction dress which is worn without any support to make the skirt stand out. If you want to look like a 1950s lady, you definitely need to wear what the women from that era wore to achieve the same silhouette. True, they really wore girdles instead of corsets, but a corset will do basically the same thing, and many of us already have a corset or two that we’ve sewn for other fashion eras. Below are “before” and “after” pictures of how the exact same dress looks with and without the afore mentioned foundation garments. It really does make a huge difference! When you wear a crinoline skirt underneath, the dress skirt has a lovely “swoosh” whenever you move.
Here's the dress without a corset or crinoline underskirt.And here's the same dress with the period-correct foundation garments.
- And here’s the same dress with the period-correct foundation garments.
So next time you need a 1950s dress, try this method for a fairly simple-to-sew pattern! I added a flower pin, white gloves, and birdcage veil, but it would look cute with a vintage hat, too!
UPDATE: If any of you are interested in how to sew the 1950s walkaway dress, feel free to join our Butterick 4790 Sew-along that’s happening in August!